Gunslinger in the 19th century. Note this is the Ned Christie posse

Gunslinger ər/ and gunfighter are literary words used historically to refer to men in the American Old West who had gained a reputation of being dangerous with a gun and had participated in gunfights and shootouts. Gunman was a more common term used for these individuals in the 19th century. Today, the term "gunslinger" is more or less used to denote someone who is quick on the draw with a pistol, but can also refer to riflemen and shotgun messengers. The gunfighter is also one of the most popular characters in the Western genre and has appeared in associated films, video games, and literature.

The gunfighter could be a lawman, outlaw, cowboy, or shooting exhibitionist, but was more commonly a hired gun who made a living with his weapons in the Old West.[1]

Origin of the term

The term "gun slinger" was used in the Western film Drag Harlan (1920).[2] The word was soon adopted by other Western writers, such as Zane Grey, and became common usage. In his introduction to The Shootist (1976), author Glendon Swarthout says "gunslinger" and "gunfighter" are modern terms, and the more authentic terms for the period would have been "gunman", "pistoleer", "shootist," or "bad man" (sometimes written as "badman"). Swarthout seems to have been correct about "gunslinger", but the term "gunfighter" existed in several newspapers in the 1870s, and as such the term existed in the 19th century.[3] Bat Masterson used the term "gunfighter" in the newspaper articles which he wrote about the lawmen and outlaws whom he had known. However, Joseph Rosa noted that, even though Masterson used the term "gunfighter", he "preferred the term 'mankiller'" when discussing these individuals.[4] Clay Allison (1841–1887), a notorious New Mexico and Texas gunman and cattleman, originated the term "shootist".[5]


Often, the term has been applied to men who would hire out for contract killings or at a ranch embroiled in a range war where they would earn "fighting wages".[3] Others, like Billy the Kid, were notorious bandits, and still others were lawmen like Pat Garrett and Wyatt Earp. A gunfighter could be an outlaw—a robber or murderer who took advantage of the wilderness of the frontier to hide from genteel society and to make periodic raids on it. The gunfighter could also be an agent of the state, archetypically a lone avenger, but more often a sheriff, whose duty was to face the outlaw and bring him to justice or to personally administer it. There were also a few historical cowboys who were actual gunfighters, such as the outlaw cowboy gang who participated in the bloody Skeleton Canyon Massacre.[6]

Other Languages
català: Pistoler
Cymraeg: Ymladdwr gwn
Deutsch: Revolverheld
한국어: 총잡이
italiano: Pistolero
עברית: אקדוחן
日本語: ガンマン
português: Pistoleiro
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Revolveraš
svenska: Revolverman